Plant exudates trigger leaf-trenching by cabbage loopers, Trichoplusia ni (Noctuidae)
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- Dussourd, D. Oecologia (1997) 112: 362. doi:10.1007/s004420050321
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Cabbage loopers, Trichoplusia ni, cut a narrow trench across leaves of plants that release exudate, then feed distal to the trench in an area of reduced exudation. The larvae do not normally trench plant species such as plantain, Plantago lanceolata, that lack exudate. To determine what cues elicit trenching, I reared larvae to the final instar on plantain, then applied test solutions to their mouthparts during feeding. Loopers that received latex from Lactuca serriola (Asteraceae) or phloem exudate from watermelon, Citrullus vulgaris (Cucurbitaceae), often responded by cutting a trench in plantain, even though these larvae had not previously encountered exudate nor previously trenched. Loopers that were allowed to trench and feed on L. serriola for 1 day prior to the assay subsequently cut trenches in plantain more frequently and in response to more fluids, including a viscous solution of polyethylene glycol and latex from a non-host, poinsettia (Euphorbia pulcherrima). Subsequent bioassays with larvae reared entirely on plantain tested whether bitter cucurbitacins or gelation are essential cues for trenching. Sap from non-bitter cucumber plants (Cucumis sativus) caused larvae to trench, showing that cucurbitacins are not required to induce trenching. Loopers also trenched after receiving cucumber sap that did not gel due to the addition of mercaptoethanol. An extract of sap lacking the proteins that cause gelation likewise triggered trenching. Further fractionation revealed that cucumber sap and also butternut squash sap (Cucurbita moschata) contain trenching stimulants that are small (molecular weight < 3,000) water-soluble molecules.